Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


Each ceremony is special

I’ve been to a fair number of ceremonies over the past few days.
Last Thursday, I chased the Sons of the American Legion (SAL) and other volunteers as they set hundreds of 15-foot-tall flagpoles at Woodville and Calvary Cemeteries. I was there to get a good picture, one that would help show their dedication and the cheerfulness of their service.
Neither they nor the evening lighting made the task easy. As for the volunteers, they were in constant motion. It was clear they had a job to do, and they were going to get it done. No personal glory was necessary, making the photographer extraneous.
After an hour or more, I finally got a couple pictures that at least partially met my standards. That’s not a complaint, though. The group was so congenial, and was taking so much pleasure in its target tasks, it was fun to be around them.  For me, it became something like an Easter egg hunt–could I position myself in the right place at the right time?
On Sunday, at Eli’s invitation, I attended the final service at First Congregational Church in New Richland. It was beautiful: Eli is not letting his sentimental attachment to the church and its members override his powers of observation.
The service was not the mourning of loss, but a celebration of accomplishment. Even to an outsider, it was deeply meaningful. 
Monday, I found myself at Waseca’s Memorial Day gathering at 9:30 a.m. As I entered the high school gym about 10 minutes before everything began, I was impressed by the number of people in attendance. The band was there, fully outfitted in their marching outfits. People I had seen in jeans and t-shirts at the cemeteries a few nights before were now dressed in military uniforms; they seemed a bit more solemn.
Colonel Abraham Jackson, a 1993 graduate of Waseca High School and now a highly distinguished member of Army intelligence, gave a well-phrased, personable address that helped us all remember he is a home-town boy under all those insignia. I gave up on speaking with him after the program because he was surrounded by friends, one-time classmates, and well-wishers.
After seeing the many, many tasks and details Grant Whissemore, the chair of the Waseca Memorial Day Association, had taken care of over the previous weeks, I was touched by his humility as he received a certificate acknowledging his 19 years of contributions. Although he said he was stepping down from leadership of the Memorial Day events, I had trouble believing him. Time will tell.
As the Waseca Memorial Day program ended, it fell to this reporter to head over to the New Richland Memorial Day ceremony.
I was cheerful and grateful to be going. You see, I had written a preview story at the request of the New Richland American Legion post. Their speaker was city resident and Legion member Gordy Loverink, 74, a veteran of the war in Vietnam.
When I had interviewed Gordy a week or two before, he had shared engrossing descriptions of his experiences during his time in Vietnam during 1969 and ‘70. He had told me to go ahead and include as many vignettes in my write-up as I wanted. He assured me I would not be stealing the material he planned to speak about: no matter how many stories I used, he said, he had plenty more to share.
He carried through on his promise.
As I had described in my preview article, he shared stories with the power first to break, and then to mend the listeners’ hearts.
If you want many details, you will have to invite Gordy over for coffee.
Right now, I can’t keep myself from mentioning how, when his squad would want to clean up during their three weeks “in the field,” they would find a river to bathe in.  They had to set a spotter though–his job was to watch for pythons, which grew to be up to 25 feet long. One time when they made it to the South China Sea and wanted to bathe, they still needed a spotter: this time, to watch for sharks.
He told of being one of two men on “surveillance” along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and how he and his companion were awestruck to discover hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of enemy soldiers were passing them. He said he credits his survival that night to his strict, impatient grandfather, who had always expected him to sit perfectly still in church. 
When he became his company’s “clerk,” Gordy said he regarded all Army property as his own, to be acquired for his fellow soldiers to use as they needed.  “The trick was to get it away from all those other people who were borrowing it,” he joked.
This past Tuesday evening, I attended yet another ceremony. This time, the local Exchange Club was dedicating a “Freedom Shrine,” a display in the county courthouse which includes facsimiles of an array of documents regarding freedom and our country’s founding principles.
Speaker Mikhail Rostislavovich referred to the documents as “windows” which allow us to see the determination and idealism brought to bear as our country came into existence, and then continued to grow.
I certainly hope everyone who finds themselves in the courthouse will take a few minutes to appreciate those precious windows to the past.
So, yes, I’ve been at a lot of ceremonies lately.  I’m deeply grateful I had the opportunity to attend each of them.


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